You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria invites readers to make jefa moves and find completeness in themselves, not relationships.
Jasmine Lin Rodriguez is the star of You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria. She’s a 30-year-old soap-opera star who’s known both for her acting and her relationship drama which keeps getting splashed across the glossy pages of the tabloids.
Determined to reclaim the narrative of her life after another break-up, Jasmine–along with her Primas of Power, Ava and Michelle–comes up with a Leading Lady Plan to help her focus on her goals as she steps into the lead role of Carmen in the Screenflix adaptation of the Venezuelan telenovela, La patrona Carmen.
According to the Leading Lady Plan:
Leading Ladies only end up on magazine covers with good reason
Leading Ladies are whole and happy on their own.
Leading Ladies are badass queens making jefa moves
Jasmine’s co-star, Ashton Suarez, is an established telenovela star, but he’s looking to make his break into the American entertainment industry. Ashton is approaching 40. His career isn’t fizzling, but he’s worried that if he doesn’t transition, he’ll slowly be pushed out of the spotlight.
Like Jasmine, Ashton isn’t concerned about falling in love, but romance rarely cares about its players’ carefully laid plans. Between a coffee spill anti-meet cute and Ashton’s anxiety, the two don’t hit it off on the best of terms but the more time they spend together, the more they begin to open up and melt in each other’s presence.
However, it wouldn’t be a romance without some drama and Daria delivers hers in spoonfuls as You Had Me at Hola progresses toward its inevitable explosion between its two leads. Jasmine’s ever enfolding life in the gossip rags and Ashton’s overprotective tendency toward his family thanks to a traumatic event simmer in the narrative until Daria slowly increases the heat chapter by chapter.
The chemistry between Jasmine and Ashton sizzles on and off-screen even if their love scenes are a bit rote. Daria’s talent lies within her ability to create a sense of family and belonging among the characters that bring her story to life. From the cast and crew of Carmen in Charge who embrace each others’ differences in gender and sexual orientation while bonding over their shared latinidad to Jasmine’s supportive relationship with her Primas of Power and Ashton’s loving family who take care of one another.
Identity is a huge part of You Had Me at Hola, both personal and communal. As Latinx actors in a predominately white American industry, Jasmine and Ashton are very aware of what their show means to their community and what it could mean for their careers.
However, that gets lost briefly, and admittedly in an upsetting way, when Jasmine makes a rash decision that completely throws her Leading Lady Plan out the window and sends her cast family up a creek without a paddle. The decision is swiftly dealt with but it was a sour note in an otherwise decent romance whose best moments take place in the first half of the book.
You Had Me at Hola could have benefited from more space for its leads to grow. The novel splits its time between Jasmine and Ashton and the characters they play on Carmen. At first, the insertion of the scripts for the show was a fresh and interesting way of using the fictional relationship of Carmen and Victor as a means of our leads analyzing their own feelings and desire for one another, but after awhile it seemed to get in the way of the narrative.
Part of the problem has to do with Carmen and Victor’s romance being second chance, and Jasmine and Ashton being a fledgling love. The Carmen couple pulled focus to the point that the narrative basically requires the reader to be invested in their love story, too, in order to keep moving through Jasmine and Ashton’s romance.
What makes Daria’s You Had Me at Hola a jefa move in its own right is the space it helps carve out for Latinx characters, families, and stories in the romance genre.
It furthers the conversation by centering on a biracial Puerto Rican Filipina who loves and trusts easily because she feels inadequate in her own family. Despite being a mess, she’s successful, surrounded by love, career-oriented, and working to open doors for herself and the actresses who will follow behind her.
Ashton is a family man who puts too much on his shoulders and often lets fear get in the way of living. He’s a single father and a provider for three generations of his family. His anxiety and PTSD aren’t belittled in the narrative, and he’s allowed not to have it all together even though he’s trying.
Through them, and the plethora of Latinx characters in You Had Me at Hola, Daria weaves a story that depicts how multifaceted the Latinx experience is even between those who share a community like Jasmine and Ashton do as Puerto Ricans. It should be a given that people understand this but, unfortunately, it is not.
You Had Me at Hola is a good late summer read for those looking to delve into the world of television, experience a couple navigating the waters of romance in the workplace, and watch a leading lady come into her own.